Imitating the Holiness of Jesus Part II
There are numerous animals that have been created to conform to their surroundings. There are two kinds of rabbits common in Manitoba, the Cottontail which we all have in our yard and the larger Jackrabbit. Because they are often out in open fields, Jackrabbits turn white in winter to match the snow so that larger predators don't catch and eat them.
One of the most striking examples of animals which change their color to match their surroundings are some species of chameleon, which can actually change the color of their skin depending on the color of the surface around them.
When these animals change color, it is an important part of their survival. If they don't blend in, they are much more susceptible to being eaten by their enemies. In other words, if they don't change to match their surroundings they are in great danger. The opposite is true for Christians. If we do change to match our surroundings, we are in great danger.
Last week we talked about the change which has taken place in us by the power of Jesus. In Ephesians 4:17-29 we learned that we must live the change that Jesus has made in us, or in other words we must live in holiness. We talked about some of the practical things which must change: we must speak truth instead of lying, we must be generous instead of stealing, we must be holy instead of immoral and so on.
This week, we will look at Ephesians 5:5-20 and discover several more reasons why it is critical that we be holy and why it is so dangerous for us to blend in with the society that surrounds us.
I. To Avoid God's Wrath
The first reason is found in Ephesians 5:5, 6, "Be sure of this, that no fornicator or impure person, or one who is greedy (that is, an idolater), has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes on those who are disobedient."
Whenever you get on an airplane you have to listen to the safety information which they give about seatbelts, oxygen masks and flotation devices. It must be difficult for the flight attendant to stand in front and do the demonstration as most people deliberately ignore them. Although most people have probably heard the drill many times, for some it is new information and so it must be repeated each time. When an emergency happens, I suspect that there are some people who have ignored the important information many times and when they suddenly have to act on it they don't know what to do.
Scripture frequently calls us as disciples to live as holy people but I suspect that some people have ignored this information. In Ephesians 5:5, 6, Paul makes a point of indicating that this is important information. It cannot be ignored or dismissed, it must be listened to.
Notice that in the beginning of verse 5 he says, "Be sure of this" and in the beginning of verse 6 "Let no one deceive you with empty words." In other words, look up! Pay attention! This is important and you need to know it. There will be a test!
The test may come in the form of deception. The Bible speaks about those who are false teachers. Revelation 2:14, 15 mentions some of the false teachers of that day when it talks about Balaam and also about the Nicolaitans. False teachers are still around and some have taught that, as a Christian, you can sin and not worry about the consequences because God is gracious. Some people, by their example, have taught others to be careless about wickedness. The NLT translates this verse, "Don't be fooled by those who try to excuse these sins…" Penner writes, "Whether society argues that one can participate in immorality in the name of 'love,' or for the sake of so called Christian 'freedom' …believers must not be deceived."
So we are encouraged to realize that this is serious stuff and we need to take note and not ignore it, as we so often ignore the announcements on the airplane.
It is an axiom that God hates sin and anyone who lives in sin cannot be in His presence. Those who sin will not receive an inheritance among those who will spend eternity with Him. But we need to be careful that we do not dismiss this warning assuming it applies only to those who do not know Jesus and are outside the church. This is written to people who are in the church, it is written to us. So the warning is to everyone of us. We need to be aware of the danger and we need to be aware of anyone who would deceive us that sinning has no serious consequences.
And so we are warned that anyone who lives in fornication, impurity or greed has no "inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God." If we do not live holy lives, we are in danger of disinheriting ourselves. Christianity is a gift of God given to us when we have faith in Jesus, it is a gift that involves a change of heart. If our heart is not changed and if we continue in sin it shows that we may not have received the gift at all or we may lose the inheritance we thought was ours.
The further warning is that those who continue to live in such disobedience are under the wrath of God. God hates sin. That is why He sent Jesus to this earth. That is why Jesus died on the cross. God wanted to do away with sin and it's evil consequences. If we continue in sin, especially after we have received the gift of God in Christ, what makes us think that God is suddenly OK with our sinful disobedience? God still hates sin and so if we walk in sin, we are in great danger because the wrath of God will come on all sin, whether we have once given ourselves to Him or not.
We cannot blend in to the surrounding society because God's wrath comes on all who are unholy. Therefore, we are called to live holy lives so that we will not come under God's wrath.
II. To Live as Children of Light
When our children were in high school and when they participated in school functions we often asked them the question, "are you an influence or are you being influenced." The other reasons to be holy is so that we will not be influenced, but rather that we will be an influence.
In verse 8 we are reminded, "once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light." This is the message we looked at last week when we were reminded that God has created a change in us and we must live in that change. Yet we have just noticed that it is possible for us to be deceived. There are those who would say things to make us think lightly about the matter of holy living. They may say that it isn't all that bad if you sin a little or they may convince us that some action or other is not a sin, when Scripture is clear that it is disobedience to God. Because of that danger, Paul says in verse 7, "Therefore do not be associated with them." In other words, we are called to live in holiness so that we will not be influenced by darkness.
But this is a difficult thing to do. There are two important questions that we need to ask about this statement. One is, "who is 'them?'" The other is, "What does "associate" mean?"
As Christians our relationship with people who are not Christians is often somewhat tentative. It isn't very long after people become Christians that they begin to drift towards friendships only with Christian people. Often our interpretation of who "them" is in this passage is that it refers to unbelievers. The problem with that interpretation is, how are we going to tell people about Jesus if we don't know them? How are we going to earn the right to be heard if unbelievers are not among our friends? How are we going to imitate Jesus if we don't eat with "tax collectors and sinners" as He did?
That is why I believe that "them" refers to people who identify with the church and may even sit in the pews, but who influence us towards darkness. These are the people we are not to associate with. They are the ones who are really dangerous. The reason they are dangerous is that, because they are in the church, we feel that they are safe. This was my experience. When I was in grade 7 and 8 I went to a public school. I knew I was different and needed to live in a different way and so I was quite careful about how I lived my Christian life. In grade 9 I went to MBCI. I am not blaming MBCI and it was a combination of factors, but one of the things that happened was that I felt "safe" in the "Christian" environment. As a result, I was no longer on guard and so I was influenced towards disobedience. I am to blame, but I think it is an illustration of why it is those who are in the church, but are disobedient, whom we must not associate with rather than those who are not believers.
What does such non-association look like? Some churches have made rules about this and they legislate that you cannot eat with anyone who is excommunicated. I think we need to be very careful about our actions of non-association. If we find that our association with those in the church who are living in disobedience is influencing us towards disobedience, we need to avoid associating with them. If we find that there are ways of relating to them which help them and influence them and encourage them back to faith, then we should not avoid them. We need to recognize the point that Paul is making here and that is that we are called to be careful. Because of the danger of being influenced by disobedience, we are called to do anything we can to continue to walk in holiness.
As we think about these things, we need to hear what Paul says in Ephesians 5:10, "Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord." We should never accept a list of rules so that we can stop thinking. Holy living requires constant thought, reflection and decision making. We will discover what is pleasing to the Lord if we hear what it says in verse 9. Holy living has to do with what is good and right and true. If that is our heart's desire, we will be able to walk in holiness.
III. To Expose the Darkness
As many of you know, my father was a photographer. When I was growing up, I helped with certain aspects of the business. At one time, photographic plates were used in the studio camera and the exposed film had to be manually taken out of the plates and fresh film put in them. Of course all of this had to be done in complete darkness, otherwise the film would be spoiled. That was my job and it was always very interesting to be in complete darkness. You couldn't see anything and had to do everything by feel. When the job was done, I could put the light on and the change was always dramatic. Previously I could see nothing, but as soon as the light was shining, I could see everything clearly.
Earlier I mentioned the saying, "Are you being influenced or are you an influence." We just examined that we are called to holy living so that we will not be influenced to disobedience. Just as important is the other side of that saying and that is that we are called to holy living so that we can be an influence.
In Ephesians 5:11-17, the text continues with the imagery of light and darkness. In that context, we read in verse 11, "Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them." Then in verse 13 we read, "everything exposed by the light becomes visible" and in verse 14, "everything that becomes visible is light."
What is clear about these statements is that light dispels darkness. In the same way, we are called to be holy so that we overcome the darkness.
But the difficult question is, "What does it mean to "expose" the evil deeds of darkness? How do we expose the darkness? There are, of course, a number of options open to us. Some people seem to take delight in speaking about evil things and condemning every evil deed that they become aware of. If a crime is committed, they take delight in speaking about every detail of the crime and declaring judgment on those involved. Although the temptation to do so is strong, I cannot shake the feeling that people who do that are like the Pharisees who brought the woman caught in adultery to Jesus. It is interesting that in that story Jesus concludes by saying, "Neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more." When Ephesians 5:12 says, "it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly," I believe it teaches us that we have good reason not to engage in public scolding or judgmental censure as the methods by which we are called to expose the unfruitful works of darkness.
I believe that the way in which we are called to expose them is by living in the light. That is why the repeated emphasis in this passage on light. As I mentioned earlier it says things like, "everything exposed by the light becomes visible" and " everything that becomes visible is light." We should never underestimate the power of holy living to be such a light in the world and to have influence on all around. Of course we need to be careful how we shine our light. Being "holier than thou" does not shine light, but shines hypocrisy. Yet if we lovingly live in holiness, as Jesus did, we will have a powerful impact and we will obey the command to expose the unfruitful works of darkness, whether those works of darkness are present in the church or in the world. So holiness is important as a way to have an influence in the world. It is an important part of our mission in the world.
Penner says, "The bearers of true light do not respond to the surrounding moral darkness with gloating superiority or self-righteous condemnation, for these attitudes are themselves part of the unfruitful deeds of that darkness. Rather they approach it with love and truth to accomplish a twofold purpose: (1) to show the error and evil concealed by darkness…and (2) to bring about transformation into light…"
The quote in verse 14 encourages us to allow the light of Christ to shine in and through us. As we continue to read in Ephesians 5, we discover some very helpful thoughts on how we can be light.
Verse 15 encourages us, " Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise…" Proverbs reminds us of the value of living with wisdom. As we put our hope in God, He will teach us the path of wisdom and so we must always ask, "Is it wise." We read a book in the last year with the title, "The Best Question Ever" by Andy Stanley. What does he suggest is the best question? "Is it wise?"
Paul goes on to advise, "making the most of the time because the days are evil." If we want to be an influence, we need to consider that we live in a world that will try to influence us away from God. If we waste our time with things that do not give us the opportunity to grow in Christ or to live in holiness, we will not shine as lights into the darkness of the world. Neufeld says, "In short, the wise had better know that they are living in the last days and that there is no time to waste. Whatever time there is must be used to get ready for the day of redemption."
In order to make the most of our time, we also need to "understand what the will of the Lord is." There are several ways to discern the Lord's will. We have already talked about one way and that it to seek wisdom. God has revealed His will in Scripture and a good knowledge of the Word of God is very important in teaching us His will. The other is to go directly to God and ask Him. Scripture does not speak directly to every issue. If we ask God, He will teach us what His will is so that we can live in holiness.
On Pentecost Sunday, we talked about the wonderful power and strength that God has given us to live for Him. He has given us His Spirit and we are called to be filled with the Spirit. If we are filled with the Spirit of God, we will live holy lives.
The last two verses of this section call us to worship. It is clear that if our eyes are focused on Jesus and if we encourage each other as we worship together we will have a strong motivation to live holy lives and to do those things that are pleasing to the Lord.
Do you know what holy means? It means set apart. We have some things in our house that are only used when we have special company. They aren't used for daily, ordinary purposes. That is one sense of holy. When I want to write a note to myself or figure something out, I grab a piece of scrap paper that has writing on the other side. When I want to write a letter to someone special, I take a clean piece of paper that is not blemished by anything else. That is another sense of holy. So holiness has about it a separateness from the ordinary and a cleanness.
When it comes to the way we live in this world, that is what we are called to. The values we have are to be different than everyone else in the world. They are values formed by God Himself. Our lifestyle is not to be marked disobedience and sin, but to be lived in obedience to God.
Because we have been changed by Jesus and in order to avoid the wrath of God and in order to not be influenced by evil but rather to be an influence, we as followers of Jesus are to imitate the holiness of Jesus. We know that we will not be perfect in this, but this morning I want to encourage us not to give up, but to commit ourselves once again to be holy as we are called to be holy. May God give us grace to shine for Him.